Extreme cold stresses power grid, major power operator declares an energy emergency

This morning (Tuesday, Feb. 16), Dakota Valley Electric Cooperative consumer/members who are served from the cooperative’s Milnor, Edgeley, Forman, Oakes, LaMoure, Fullerton, Cogswell, Dickey and Ludden, North Dakota, substations have experienced rolling blackouts.  

The rolling blackouts are affecting local substations served by the Western Area Power Administration – known in the industry as WAPA, reported Dakota Valley’s General Manager Mark Kinzler.   So far, the outages have been about 45 minutes in duration, but may vary as the situation changes, he said. 

As one of four power marketing administrations in the U.S. Department of Energy,  WAPA is responsible for marketing and delivering wholesale federal hydropower to customers in 15 central and western states. Their portfolio includes the hydropower electricity produced at Garrison Dam at Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota and at other dams along the Missouri River in Montana and South Dakota.

The rolling blackouts are the result of power shortages experienced in the 14-state area served by the Southwest Power Pool. (SPP.)  Mandated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to ensure reliable supplies of power, adequate transmission capability and competitive wholesale electricity prices, SPP coordinates the flow of electricity across approximately 60,000 miles of high-voltage lines in all of Oklahoma and Kansas, and parts of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and New Mexico.  The company is headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas.

SPP ordered the rolling blackouts in the 14 states as winter storms and an extreme cold blast battered much of the U.S.  Describing it as a “last resort,” the organization went to Energy Emergency Alert Level 3 at 6:15 a.m., today, when system wide generating capacity dropped below current load, prompting the rolling blackouts.

The Energy Emergency Alerts were called because the demand for electricity across the area SPP manages is larger than the amount that can be generated and fed into the power grid.  Company officials reported system-wide generating capacity has dropped below their current load of just under 45 gigawatts (GW) at 9 a.m. Central time.

SPP officials stated the emergency action was taken to prevent things from getting worse, and to prevent uncontrolled, cascading power failures.

SPP also briefly called a Level 3 alert yesterday, the first time in SPP’s 41-year history.  

These shortages are the result of unusually high electric use due to unprecedented cold weather in the central and southern United States, and the shutdown of many renewable energy sites, mostly wind and solar, due to icing and below freezing temperatures. 

In addition, many of electric generation stations powered by natural gas had to be shut down, due to inadequate supplies of natural gas, which also contributed to the shortage of electric power.

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